Judicial Perspective: Illinois courts expanding use of electronic filings

Hon. M. Carol Pope

By Hon. M. Carol Pope
President, Illinois Judges Association and Illinois Appellate Court Judge, Fourth Appellate District

Facing increasing caseloads and shrinking revenue, Illinois courts are continually searching for ways to do more with less.

In today’s fast-paced, high-tech legal environment, innovation is crucial to keeping up with the workload. Last spring, the Illinois Supreme Court decided it was past time for the Illinois judiciary to get on the e-train. The court appointed a special committee to develop and implement electronic business applications with the goal of making Illinois courts user-friendly, efficient and cost-effective.

As Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride put it, “e-filing and e-business have become frequently-used terms throughout the court system. Simply stated, we wanted the committee to kickstart existing ideas and make e-business and especially e-filing a matter of course, not just a matter of talk, in our Illinois courts.”

After extensive research and a series of meetings, the committee submitted a detailed report to the Supreme Court, which the court is considering.

This is an extremely important project the chief justice and the Supreme Court has asked us to undertake,” said attorney Bruce Pfaff, who is chairman of the committee, which is composed of attorneys, judges and court clerks.

Pfaff said the committee sought to make using the court system consistent with the way lawyers actually work, with an emphasis on increased efficiency.

The Supreme Court also has approved electronic filing pilot projects in two Appellate districts, the Second (northern Illinois counties) and the Fourth (central Illinois counties) involving a new process for filing the record on appeal. Generally, the record on appeal consists of everything in the circuit clerk’s files, plus the transcripts of hearings and testimony.

Fourth District Appellate Court Clerk Carla Bender said: “The preparation of the electronic record will come from an already digitalized record in the circuit court. The computer will do the compilation, the assembling and documentation of that record, as opposed to human beings having to do it. Once compiled, it will be delivered in seconds, rather than days, providing simultaneous access to all parties and the appellate court. Mailing costs and delivery costs are eliminated.”

Adams County is partnering with the Fourth Appellate District in this endeavor, while DuPage and Ogle counties are working with the Second Appellate District.

Impact on appellate courts

What does this mean for an appellate court judge? The judge will be able to pull up trial transcripts in his or her office. In fact, any justice on the court could pull up any transcript and record at the same time another justice or lawyer is looking at the same documents.

Previously, one party to the appeal would check the physical record out from the clerk’s office, finish their brief, and return the record so it could be checked out by the other party on appeal. Once that brief was finished, the authoring judge would receive the record so a draft disposition could be prepared. Other judges on the panel would request the record from the authoring judge, who then returns the record to the clerk to be shipped to the requesting judge. E-filing eliminates this cumbersome process.

E-filing in the Supreme Court of Illinois

In January of this year, the Supreme Court of Illinois announced the beginning of electronic filing in cases pending before it. The new process allows the Illinois Attorney General, the State Appellate Defender’s Office, and the Office of the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor to digitally file motions, briefs and related documents with the clerk of the court through a secure password system designed and operated by a third-party vendor.

While restricted now to only those offices when they represent parties opposed to each other in the same case, the pilot project is planned to be the basis for a program to be extended to all parties filing in the Illinois Supreme Court, eventually resulting in the saving of tens of thousands of pages of paper documents.

Carolyn Taft Grosboll, Supreme Court clerk, said, “Electronic filing is an important step to modernize the way documents are filed with the Supreme Court, resulting in a simplified process for parties seeking relief from the court.”

You can expect e-filings to become commonplace in the years ahead, but not only because of the cost savings and efficiencies in service. E-filings provide two additional and critical benefits to every litigant — greater access to the courts and easier administration of justice throughout the state of Illinois.

This is the second in a series of articles called “Judicial Perspective,” distributed by the Illinois Judges Association. For information about the Illinois Judges Association, visit www.ija.org.

From the April 18-24, 2012, issue

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